From the first idea of Mazí in a kitchen in central Athens, we have always kept residents at the heart of what we do.
An asylum system is hostile by design. In this context, however, it was also inefficient, arbitrary and violent. As the state withdrew access to basic services (healthcare, legal, bureaucratic) in 2019, tens of thousands of people became trapped in dangerous and unsanitary overflowing camps on the Greek islands or across the mainland; stuck in cold and dirty and overcrowded basements of community centres or religious centres; or stuck in travellers’ houses: notoriously unclean, insecure spaces. Working frontline at a community centre and information point, we met people every day with an urgent need of housing for an indefinite period of time. People were stuck in the asylum system; stuck without legal status; stuck without access to healthcare; stuck without the status or tools to rent an apartment, find fulfilling work, and build their own pathways out of their situation in Greece.
We decided to use safe, stable housing as the prime lever for residents to unpick these issues, and to move on. Every day we saw young men come into the centre, up to the information point and ask for support. Typically, state and humanitarian actors distribute aid based on the vulnerability of different groups of displaced people. Someone can be “vulnerable” if they fit within a defined social group (old, young, pregnant, ill). Solo men are always bottom of this list. It is remarkable how quickly you internalise the knowledge that there are no services for a young man as he asks you for help; how quickly you internalise a belief that he will be fine: he is young, he is a man, he is strong. The unspoken thought behind this is: he will be ok sleeping on the street.
We are a small charity, and that enables us to provide genuinely impactful support to each resident we work with. We measure our impact in its depth as well as breadth, and aim to achieve five key goals, increasing each resident’s:
-Stability and access to safe spaces
-Feeling of ownership of living space and the city
-Ability to access services
-Ability to support himself financially
-Feeling of strong mental health
With these five keys residents leave Mazi equipped to support their own independent housing.
Mazí Housing exists to end homelessness and social exclusion for displaced people in Athens. In a world where displacement is a reality and resources are limited, we provide viable housing options and holistic support to those who face barriers to social inclusion. We demonstrate the potential for humane, cost-effective and inclusive housing responses to migration that facilitate positive interactions between all communities, and use our voice to advocate for better policy.
Mazí’s model is unique. We have three years of experience in using housing, safe community spaces and livelihoods support as a lever into inclusion in European societies. We have a strong track record of enabling residents to move on independently from our services: sixty-eight residents have arrived at Mazí without a job since 2020; fifty have left with the tools needed to work and forty-six have left in sustainable employment. Behind these figures are 113 asylum service visits; 38 positive asylum decisions or renewals; 65 legal information sessions; 303 doctor appointments; 24 referrals for psychological support; 3429 hours of language study. There are many indicators of inclusion, self-reliance and independence beyond these: including confidence speaking at house meetings, sense of ownership of living space, ability and willingness to navigate the neighbourhood and the city alone.
Future planned activities
In three years, we have learnt a lot. We are constantly evolving our programme to reflect the changing context and the needs of our residents. We cannot anticipate the external triggers of these adaptations, but this flexibility ensures that we are making the most of our skills and resources to support residents to be self-reliant. The changes we have seen since the Athenian kitchen in 2018 have not, however, been solely driven by the context in which we work. We have pushed ourselves to become more effective, sustainable and replicable. Looking at the next two years, we have a clear vision of what Mazí looks like:
• In 2023, to recruit a board with broader experience in different areas relevant to our work, e.g. advocacy, finance, funding, housing, lived experience
• To maintain a more stable core team: this means, in 2024, four members of staff for our current operations (average 40 residents over a year)
• Broader and deeper partnerships with other organisations to amplify impact we have
• We measure impact meticulously
• We communicate successes and learnings clearly, both internally and externally
• We maintain and uphold clear internal systems
• We document our approach clearly and charmingly, ensuring it is easy for others to see and understand how we work, and the impact this has
The work that we do is as needed as it has ever been.
• We will grow to support more people: we will open more apartments, sustainably (one housing manager per three houses)
• We will open up community space to non-residents to meet the shortfall in services as organisations close across Greece
• We will build on our track record to speak about housing; to articulate the weakness of camp-based solutions; and to advocate for better access to rights
• We will collaborate with existing partners, and search for unexpected partnerships, to amplify our voice and its impact
• We are a voice that people listen to about housing and integration in Europe
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